The 2016 Bears failed the eye test.
They failed the stat test too.
One day, years from now, my children will ask me what the hell happened to the 2016 Bears. And I will tell them stories of injuries and undrafted receivers, of Matt Barkley’s spirited ineffectiveness and Jordan Howard’s irrelevant brilliance.
I will tell them, incredibly, that a franchise known for forcing turnovers tied an NFL record for the fewest ever.
That is one of six eye-opening stats that sum up the 2016 Bears season. Here they are in all their historically depressing glory.
(Thank you as always to pro-football-reference.com, AKA The Bible.)
1. In-season transactions: 123
During our Week 15 game against Green Bay, FOX aired perhaps the most fitting statistic of the 2016 Bears season: we were, at the time, leading the league in transactions with 78.
I’m not sure how that stat was tabulated, because I went to the transactions page on ChicagoBears.com and counted backward from that game to 78 and did not come up with an obvious starting point.
Instead, I used that page and counted all transactions from one week prior to opening day through the last game of the season. I did the same going back to 2006. Here’s the count:
- 2006: 43
- 2007: 49
- 2008: 50
- 2009: 49
- 2010: 44
- 2011: 64
- 2012: 69
- 2013: 77
- 2014: 105
- 2015: 105
- 2016: 123
This progression sums up the roster struggles the Bears have had since reaching Super Bowl XLI.
A few other items stand out from the transaction tally. These 2016 stats are all team highs since 2006:
- 11 players sent to IR (with 19 players overall, including guys prior to Week 1)
- 38 players signed to the practice squad
- 27 players waived
2. Passes to undrafted players: 38%
The injuries hit our receiving corps particularly hard. Our #2, #3, and #4 WR along with our starting tight end finished the season on IR, while our #1 receiver missed four games due to suspension.
That sent us scrambling down our depth chart to a degree I’ve never seen. For the first time since Tom Waddle in 1993 and the third time in the 16-game era, an undrafted player led the Bears in receptions.
That was Cameron Meredith, the team’s leader in targets, receptions, and receiving yards. He tied Zach Miller with four receiving touchdowns.
I looked at the last 20 seasons of Bears receiving stats. Here’s the quick-and-dirty rundown on the production of our undrafted players in the passing game, along with the previous high in the past 20 years.
- Percentage of targets: 38% (previous: 21.8%, 1997)
- Percentage of receptions: 41% (previous: 25.4%, 1998)
- Receptions: 142 (previous: 85, 1997)
- Receiving yards: 1,613 (previous: 793, 1997)
- Receiving TDs: 8 (previous: 4, 1998, 2004, 2011)
3. Jordan Howard’s rushing yards: 1,313
Rookie Jordan Howard was easily the biggest bright spot of the 2016 Bears season. After starting the season behind Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey, Howard busted loose for 111 yards rushing in the team’s first win of the season (Week 4, Detroit), and proceeded to set a franchise rookie rushing record, topping Matt Forte’s previous mark of 1,238.
Three more interesting tidbits about Howard’s 2016:
- He finished 2nd in the NFL in rushing, trailing only fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott. This marked the first time in NFL history that rookies finished 1-2 in rushing yards.
- He became the 14th rookie running back to gain 1,000 yards while averaging at least 5 yards per carry. Howard averaged 5.21 yards per carry, 7th best on that list and ahead of his fellow-rookie Elliott. (Bears running back Beattie Feathers tops the list at 8.44 yards per carry in 1934.)
- He became the fourth Bears running back to rush for 1,300 yards in a season, joining Walter Payton, who did it nine times, and Thomas Jones and Matt Forte, who did it once.
4. Matt Barkley’s passer rating: 68.3
Another feel-good story of the 2016 Bears was Matt Barkley. But let’s not feel toooooo good. Barkley finished last among Bears QBs with a 68.3 passer rating, and first among them with 14 interceptions.
Barkley was the first Bears QB since Rex Grossman in 2007 to attempt 200 passes and finish with a QB rating below 70. Since Ditka’s departure after 1992, that list looks like this:
- Cade McNown, 2000, 68.5
- MATT BARKLEY, 2016, 68.3
- Cade McNown, 1999, 66.7
- Rex Grossman, 2007, 66.4
- Kyle Orton, 2005, 59.7
- Kordell Stewart, 2003, 56.8
5. Takeaways: 11 (fewest in NFL history)
Here is perhaps the saddest stat of the bunch.
The Chicago Bears... the Monsters of the Midway... the team of Butkus and Singletary, of Urlacher and Peanut, of Fencik and Plank... yes, our 2016 Chicago Bears tied an NFL record for fewest takeaways in a season with 11.
Here is an example of the number 11 bringing a smile to our faces:
Here is an example of the number 11 not bringing a smile to our faces:
TEAMS WITH RECORD-LOW 11 TAKEAWAYS
- 1982 Colts, 0-8-1 record (strike-shortened season)
- 2013 Texans, 2-14
- 2015 Cowboys, 4-12
- 2016 BEARS, 3-13
Here is the final, horrible count:
2016 BEARS INTERCEPTIONS LEADERS
- Cre’von LeBlanc and Tracy Porter, 2
- 4 players, 1
2016 BEARS RECOVERED FUMBLE LEADERS (NON-OFFENSE)
- Adrian Amos, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks, 1
There it is: 8 interceptions and 3 recovered fumbles.
To further contextualize the importance of takeaways, here is a scatter plot from our own Jeff Berckes showing the relationship between wins and turnover differential, of which we were a -20 this year.
Here’s Jeff to explain:
The blue diamonds are teams that missed the playoffs, red circles are playoff teams, and our Bears are the sad orange box. They are dead on the line, meaning the turnover differential perfectly aligns with a 3-win team this year.
On the other side, the Vikings are a good team that kind of fell apart. Everything else fits well. If you're in the -5 to +5 TO differential range, you're generally an average team, plus or minus 2 wins or losses.
Thanks, Jeff, for that analytically depressing chart!
The one upside?
The 2015 Cowboys had only 11 takeaways too, and this year they have homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs. Cue Lloyd Christmas:
6. Losses: 13
I’ll keep this one short and sour.
The Bears set a franchise-record of 13 losses in the 16-game era.
The Bears tied a franchise-record of 13 losses in any season.
The 2016 Bears were bad at football.
Guess what though?
I’ll take it.